By Betty Clermont, Staff Writer, Atlanta Progressive News (February 19, 2006)
(APN) ATLANTA--Ralph Reed's largest campaign financial supporters, members
of Georgia's Hanna family, are major owners of CompuCreditthe company which
issues the highly usurious "credit rebuilding" Aspire Visa CardAtlanta
Progressive News has learned.
Aspire Visa is notorious for extremely high annual fees, monthly fees,
account opening fees, credit line increase fees, and finance charges, in
addition to awful customer service. CompuCredit, which runs Aspire Visa, targets
individuals with past credit problems who are unlikeky to receive a credit offer
from any other company.
David Hanna, CompuCredit President and CEO, gave $12,000 total in an
off-election year to Mr. Reed for Reed's campaign for Georgia Lt. Governor,
according to disclosure statements of financial contributors obtained by Atlanta
Progressive News. Frank Hanna, President of HBR Capitol Ltd., and David's
brother, gave $13,000. Kimberly Hanna, a homemaker, gave $13,000. Sally Hanna, a
homemaker, gave $13,000.
The Hanna brothers may find it difficult to appreciate the struggles of the
poor since they are listed as eighth and ninth on a 2005 list of "Georgia's
100 Barons of Business."
Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, chair of the Georgia
Republican Party, and Southeast regional chairman of the Bush-Cheney '04
campaign, now finds his election campaign for Georgia's Lieutenant Governor
running out of steam.
With reports piling up of his association with disgraced lobbyist, Jack
Abramoff, interest and contributions to Reed's campaign are fizzling out.
In recent weeks, 21 of Georgia's 34 state senators urged Mr. Reed to drop
out of the race given his ties to Abramoff.
Mr. Reed faces two compelling Democratic challengers for the Lt. Governor
seat this year, Greg Hecht and Jim Martin.
Hannas First Made News for Shady Blue Cross Insurance Deals
Guarding their privacy, there wasn't much in the press about the Hannas until
the state's largest health insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia, was
converted from a not-for-profit to a for-profit corporation.
Georgia Blue Cross became a for-profit in 1996 under the umbrella of
Cerulean, a holding company largely owned by Frank and David Hanna, according to
the Savannah Morning News.
Advocates for the poor brought suit claiming public assets were plundered
without fair compensation. Blue Cross settled agreeing to create an $81 million
endowment fund that would make grants to address public health needs. When Blue
Cross/Blue Shield of Georgia merged with WellPoint Health Networks in 1998, one
day after the lawsuit was settled, the Hannas cleared at least $54 million in
Blue Cross was purchased by Cerulean for $170 million in 1996, but was sold
later for $500 million two years later. Advocates who brought suit against
Cerulean contended Blue Cross was at first grossly undervalued.
Also of concern, Cerulean employed former Georgia politicians as lobbyists to
shepherd the initial purchase through the Georgia legislature, including the
former state democratic chairman and a former aide to the governor.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner, John Oxendine, later approved the deal, even
after receiving campaign contributions from the Hannas. Oxendine faces
Democratic challenger Guy Drexinger in this year's election. Drexinger told
APN that Oxendine has an ongoing problem of supporting causes when those causes
support his election campaign.
Aspiring to Take Money from the Poor
In 1996, the Hanna brothers bought a controlling interest in CompuCredit
Corp, joining other top executives who formerly worked at Equifax.
CompuCredit markets their Aspire Credit Card to those who have bad or no
credit, and who are unlikely to find a credit card with any other company. At
the end of 2005, CompuCredit had over 3.5 million customer accounts with an
aggregate managed portfolio of $2.49 billion in receivables, according to the
company's website. The company, which is located in Greater Atlanta, markets
itself as part of the "New South's Economic Renaissance."
"I was happy at first to be approved as a college student in need of
cash," a card holderwho wishes to remain anonymoustold Atlanta
"I knew the annual fees were awful, but I really needed the money at the
time. I got a $300 limit, but was immediately charged a $100 annual fee, $6.50
monthly fee, and a $19 account opening fee. Really, I only got about $175 in
actual credit but a bill for $300," the source said.
"As months went by, I received more monthly fees and finance
charges," the source continued. "In about one year I had already
repaid what I borrowed but still was maxed out. And that's when I got the
annual fee again. Now, I'm pretty much making payments every month only to
cover the fees. I already paid back the principal forever ago, and I'm paying
interest on fees, and fees on interest!"
"People also need to know about Credit Line Increase Fees. I once
received a $100 credit line increase but was assessed a $39 fee for the
increase," the source said.
"The worst thing was when I had a dispute with the company. The customer
service reps, who all sound like they're in India, were rude and would not put
me in touch with a manager. I called the President of Columbus Bank and Trust
(CB&T)which issues Aspire Visaafter an extensive web search, though,
and got it straightened out."
The President of CB&T, Steve Melton, is Director of the Columbus Chamber
of Commerce and serves on the Board of the United Way, in additional signs of
Here are just two of the many complaints posted on the Internet about Aspire
"Aspire had sent me my new card along with my terms and conditions. On
it was stated no annual fee and a 12%APR. I still hadn't used the card, but
when I received my statement I had been charged a $59 annual fee, and over
18%APR. I was very upset so I spent days trying to call them. I could not reach
anything other then a automated machine over and over," one customer told
the RipOff Report.
"Where do I begin? I feel as if this company has been screwing me over
since the beginning .Like many, I believed that making the minimum payment
would be all right, but it wasn't. I was paying more and more every month. I
currently pay a 36.75% interest rate that continually goes up .I have a list
of other complaints about this company too. I've written the Attorney General's
office in both Maryland and Georgia about this company's business practices and
am waiting to hear back from them. I'm in debt with this company up to my ears,
they have harassed me at my workplace with nasty and threatening phone
calls," another customer said.
These types of practices have an adverse impact on the ability of low income
Americans to keep their finances in order.
According to a 2004 Gallup Poll, families with an annual income below $20,000
were paying 14.3 percent of their income on credit card debt.
Ties to the Christian Right
Like Reed and the Christian Coalition, Frank J. Hanna III is associated with
the right-wing Legion of Christ, a multinational group of "orthodox"
Catholic clergy known for fund-raising successes and an affinity for
evangelizing the rich and powerful.
Mr. Hanna is also serving on President Bush's Commission on Hispanic
Education, helped form several religious schools, and was once a Truman Scholar.
The Wall St. Journal ran an article on January 23, 2006, noting critics who
argue that the Legion's "focus on the wealthy reinforces the sharp class
divides that have long held Latin America back socially and economically. They
say the Legion fosters intolerance and social climbing rather than devotion to
Christ's gospel. Some in Mexico, instead of referring to the order's followers
as Legionnaires of Christ, call them the 'Millionaires of Christ.'"
The Legion has been banned in three U.S. dioceses and has been successful in
only two -- Sacramento, California, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Here in Atlanta, the Legion made front page news when they took control of
the Donnellan School in Buckhead (now known as Holy Spirit Prep) by having
police escort the Principal and two other administrators out of the building in
the middle of a school day and in full view of horrified and weeping elementary
Hanna's most touted charity is the Solidarity School located off Roswell
Road, near I-285.
Hanna is also well-known for his leadership in a group of nominal American
Catholics who, among other activities, encouraged their bishops to refuse
communion to presidential candidate, John Kerry, in order to further their
aspirations for the new American imperialism.
It is this mutual willingness to abuse the label "Christian" which
sets Reed and Hanna apart from other political operatives.
(This article contains additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale, Editor,
Atlanta Progressive News.)